The council budget, which is set to be approved at a virtual meeting tonight, offers “the worst of both worlds” as far as the borough’s recycling centres are concerned, according to a Tory councillor.
In the middle of the council’s deepening financial crisis last year, Croydon agreed to pay rubbish contractors Veolia an extra £20.7million to “protect” the borough’s three recycling centres. Yet now, as the council scrambles to plug the covid-sized hole in its budgets, it is considering flogging off at least one, possibly two, of the recycling centres.
Helen Redfern is a Conservative councillor for Purley Oaks and Riddlesdown ward, where one of the two under-threat recycling centres is located. The other centres are at Factory Lane (which is thought to be safe from any sell-off) and at Fishers Farm, New Addington.
The Labour-controlled council’s budget can only be approved tonight because the government has agreed to a £120million bail-out over the next two financial years to help plug the overspend last year, which arose largely as a consequence of the covid-19 emergency.
Redfern has looked into the refuse collection and management aspect of the budget. Despite the possible reduction of service by the closure of a recycling centre, Redfern said, “The new 2021-2022 budget does not indicate that substantial savings will be made to the [Veolia] contract.”
The council has already axed its free bulky waste collections – for a saving of £307,000 in 2021-2022, as it reintroduces charges of up to £51 for a service which was hoped would deter residents from fly-tipping their old mattresses, dishwashers and other items too large to be taken by them to the tip.
Redfern said, “Saving relatively small amounts by reducing future services to our residents, whilst maintaining extraordinary increases in payments to contractors based on existing levels of services, is the worst of both worlds.
“We need the council to review all of its costly contracts in order to return the best possible value to Croydon’s residents and Council Tax-payers.”
It was the Conservatives, when they had control of the council, who first outsourced the bin collection service to Veolia, in a deal which, extraordinarily, allowed for no council monitoring of the contractors’ performance. Veolia were, effectively, allowed to mark their own homework.
Since then, with Croydon part of the South London Waste Partnership, residents have endured the Binmageddon roll-out of wheelie bins, at the behest of Veolia in a massive contract change across four boroughs.
The exact reason for Croydon renegotiating its deal with Veolia in 2020, earlier than required, remains a mystery. The contract for the household reuse and recycling centres has been increased by £20.7million over 14 years, with the 31.5 per cent increase in the cost of the contract applied retrospectively. Given the level of cuts being imposed across the council’s other operations, this looks like an especially good deal… for Veolia.
Although the council has already brought forward some proposals for “asset disposals”, none of the recycling centres were included in the first round of land and properties to be put up for sale. According to the budget papers, the council is looking to save just £11,000 on its recycling centre operations this financial year, with a further £100,000 savings to come in 2022-2023.
“This is a very small saving for such a big reduction in the service that residents experience,” Redfern said. “We need to know more about how savings are to be achieved.”
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